I recently brewed up the California Steam Beer, a beer with an interesting history. I’ll start out with the most fascinating part, this beer is an ale but brewed with lager yeast… Blasphemy. OK maybe not really but it is odd. The yeast is what determines what kind of beer it is going to be. A lager yeast ferments at the bottom of the beer whereas an ale ferments at the top. Temperature is also taken into consideration, lagers ferment at colder temperatures, ales are warmer. The California Steam beer takes the lager yeast and ferments at an ale temperature. It is a true unique beer.
The steam beer came around during the 1840’s during the California gold rush. Brewers were unable to achieve lager temperatures but still wanted to make beer. Can’t really blame them, who doesn’t love to make beer, right? So the brewers used lager yeast, but brewed according to ale requirements.
image credit: Chris Price
Another interesting piece of history is the “steam” part. Brewers would use a coolship to brew their beer. It was basically a large shallow pan used to cool the wort, using the outside temperature (note the above photo is not outside). Not sanitary but we’ll ignore that part. The next morning the cooled wort would be transferred to a barrel for further fermentation. These coolships would often be located on the rooftop of the brewery. As the beer “cooled” it would “steam” off, which gave the beer its steam name.
Although I brewed my steam beer with a lager yeast I did not partake in the coolship method of this beer. I have too much dog hair floating around my house. That and I have too much of a pitch to my roof for cooling beer up there. I am also sure my home owners association would have something to say about it… perhaps I could pay them off in beer!?!?!?
The beer turned out much darker than I had expected, definitely an ale in color. The flavor is not unlike an amber, but has a crispness to it, which reminds me of a lager. It’s drinkable and I would remake it again if given the chance!
Have you ever tried a steam beer?